When the UFC decided to inaugurate a women’s featherweight division, with exactly one true featherweight on the roster, it was very clear the fight the UFC wanted from the start was Cris “Cyborg” Justino vs. Holly Holm.
Justino had medical issues, so Germaine de Randamie was put in her spot. de Randamie won the title via a controversial decision on Feb. 11 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The fight was close enough that it could have gone either way. A poll of media members had 63 percent for Holm, but the three who counted, the judges, all had it 48-47 for de Randamie. And the rest, is embarrassing history.
The show was built on the idea that Holm didn’t want to fight at 135 anymore, even though at a press conference she hardly voiced that opinion. Still, that was the theme in the buildup, with the idea of setting up Holm vs. Justino.
Holm did say not having to make 135 was easier, but not necessarily better. And when she lost, it was back to 135 for her fight on Saturday with Bethe Correia. Holm is coming off a third-round knockout win in a fight that saw both fighters wait for the other to make a move for two rounds. This caused fans to boo and even the referee to admonish both of them for the lack of action. Still, the Rousey duplicate head kick finish takes away that Holm hasn’t had an exciting fight since her loss to Tate. And the excitement of that fight was all about Tate coming from behind to win a fight she was on the verge of losing.
But here’s the reality. With the star power at 135 depleted with the loss of Rousey and Tate, the list of viable contenders for the winner of the July 9 fight with Amanda Nunes defending against Valentina Shevchenko is small. There’s Raquel Pennington, who hasn’t fought since beating Tate. There’s Sara McMann, who fights on July 29. And there’s Holm, who is still the best-known fighter and biggest star of the three.
At 145, the depth is even more bleak. There has been a weight class for about five months, but during that period, aside from the title fight, there hasn’t been one fight held in the division. The UFC still doesn’t even have rankings in the division. And how can they?
Justino will face Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson to determine the new champion on July 29. de Randamie has made it clear she has no interest in facing Justino, which led to her being stripped of the title. No matter who wins, there is literally nobody on the UFC roster for the winner. So like has been the case with Justino, they will have to either ask a current 135-pounder to move up, and be greatly outsized, or sign somebody from Invicta. Most of the other top featherweights, like Julia Budd, Gabrielle Holloway, Arlene Blencowe and Alexis Dufrense are with Bellator, which is trying to establish its own division.
Justino vs. Holm is as close to a marquee fight that the women’s division has right now. Still, there’s a reason top fighters aren’t clamoring to face Justino. Every opponent will be giving up a huge size disadvantage.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five fighters from Saturday’s show in Kallang, Singapore.
HOLLY HOLM – As noted, Holm (11-3) could likely walk right into a title match at featherweight after July 29 if she would choose to take it. At bantamweight, she could do a rematch with Pennington (9-5), who she beat in 2015, and a win there would probably be enough to get her a title shot as well.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS – As a former lightweight champion, who moved up to welterweight because of all the problems he went through trying to make 155, Dos Anjos (26-9) was able to clearly win a decision over Tarec Saffiedine (16-7), a longtime top 15 competitor.
A good next opponent would be Neil Magny (19-5). With the depth in the welterweight division and dos Anjos’ status as a former champion, a win there should open the doors to the top contenders.
MARCIN TYBURA – Tybura (16-2) scored the biggest win of his career, by dominating former champion Andrei Arlovski (25-15, 1 no-contest) in the third round to clinch a decision.
With the exception of Francis Ngannou, Alexander Volkov and Stefan Struve, Tybura would be the youngest of the key heavyweights in UFC right now. Given that it’s doubtful UFC would be interested in putting him in with Mark Hunt or Ngannou, his best bet is if Derrick Lewis (18-5) will fight again, as that win at least would propel his career some with a win. Aside from that, perhaps the loser of the Sept. 2 fight with Volkov and Struve might be a spot he could get.
COLBY COVINGTON – Covington (12-1), a former All-American wrestler at Oregon State, scored easily the biggest win of his career, beating Dong Hyun Kim, who came into the fight as the No. 7-ranked contender.
Covington came into the fight unranked. The win was based on being able to turn this into a three-round wrestling match. He showed strong wrestling and conditioning and dominated the fight, but the live crowd didn’t appreciate his style and booed him heavily.
Two fighters with similar records but very different styles could make for a next opponent. Kamaru Usman (10-1) is a strong wrestler, who will force Covington to show more than just wrestling. Mike Perry (10-1) is a heavy hitter and Covington vs. Perry would be your classic grappler vs. striker match.
ULKA SASAKI – Sasaki (20-4-2) survived two knockdowns to upset Justin Scoggins (11-4) with a near choke, since the arm wasn’t even under the chin.
A best bet for a future opponent is Tim Elliott (14-8-1), who is coming off a loss to Ben Nguyen. Elliott has a big enough name, from winning the last season of TUF, and getting a title shot at Demetrious Johnson. A win over Sasaki would rebound him and if Sasaki takes it, it would strongly change the trajectory of his career. And it’s a fight that could be reasonably made.
Source:: mma fighting